Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic calls his city a secondary market to Cleveland, but he says that's not a bad thing. Over the past few years downtown Akron has undergone an economic transformation. The city felt it had been losing money to its suburbs. However, five years ago, the construction of Canal Park began changing Akron's economic fortunes. At more than $30 million, the stadium project did not initially have unanimous support among the city's residents. But now many businesses are thankful the government took the risk, mostly because of the roughly half million citizens the stadium helps to attract to downtown each year. But as 90.3 WCPN's Tarice Sims reports, both city officials and business owners feel Akron still has a long way to go.
Tarice Sims: At Canal Park in downtown Akron, the Aeros prepare for a night game. Night games at the stadium are being credited for helping revitalize the heart of the city. Each game has been drawing near-capacity crowds, and those fans have been patronizing eateries and other businesses near the park. Mayor Don Plusquellic says having people walking around the formerly deserted streets of downtown is a part of the Capital Investment & Community Development Program. Mayor Plusquellic says that foot traffic has meant more tax revenue for the city from new downtown employees.
Don Plusquellic: This has helped to provide extra pay they have funds for police and fire and service workers to add to what's going on in the neighborhoods the services that are provided in the neighborhood. And I think that sometimes that's the thing that a lot of neighborhood people forget. That one of the big reasons we do downtown development is to try to keep business, provide for a tax base and a place of employment for people.
TS: The Mayor says the city's plan is to encourage economic growth. The 2002 Capital Investment & Community Development Program has around $200 million, roughly half of that money comes from local funds like income taxes and fees. Under the program, a portion of that money is devoted to development - projects such as acquiring the former General Tire property to support private development. Many of the businesses say that commitment from the city is important.
Canal Place is a 27-acre complex located just three blocks from Canal Park, where the Aeros play ball. Canal Place is home to nearly 100 clients. Steve Stoner is facilities director. He says Canal Place lures businesses by mentioning various selling points like having a government that supports growth, citizens that patronize downtown and its proximity to the stadium
Steve Stoner: I think it's all beneficial. I think the fact that they've been able to do those sort of things have encouraged people to come downtown, because not only do they work here they can walk two blocks and watch a baseball game before they go home.
TS: But not all businesses reap the benefit of the night and weekend games. John Kalos owns several restaurants in the downtown area including the Akron Tower restaurant. He says some of the players come into his place to eat lunch but they shutdown before five o'clock because people just don't come around.
John Kalos: We're only two blocks away from the stadium but we might as well be two miles because we don't get the business the night business that they would get.
TS: Kalos says another problem downtown is parking; there are simply not enough spaces. Akron city officials are looking into buying several areas for parking lots to alleviate the problem. In the meantime local establishments like the Akron Tower restaurant continue to wait for a stronger ripple to affect their businesses. Dr. Raymond Cox is head of the department of public administration and urban affairs for the University of Akron. He says the city is still a work in progress.
Raymond Cox: So it would be very easy to find places where success, you can find success and you can find pockets where success has not occurred yet. And that will be true for many years to come in that area. It's not that large a downtown. There are still some issues you get to the north side of main street you've still got things blocked off when they reconfigured highways 20 years ago. There's a lot that needs to be done right now downtown.
TS: In the near future entertainment seems to be the focus for downtown Akron. The city is currently renovating the Civic Theatre to support the arts community. Also the University of Akron will soon undergo a redevelopment program with a $3.2 million grant. The project will redesign East Market and East Exchange streets near downtown and the school's surrounding neighborhoods. In Akron, Tarice Sims, 90.3 WCPN News.